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Fashion Photography Snapshot: Richard Avedon

Beauty can be seen in all things, seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph. – Matt Hardy

Fashion history has long been immortalized on film.   We all surely have certain fashion photos that are burned in our memories, capturing moments in time – moments that stay with us long after the pages have turned.   The photograph can show both motion and emotion.   It’s a still, yet it radiates energy.

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The dream for many designers and models alike is to have a fashion spread in a notable magazine, where their work is captured in the perfect lighting at the perfect moment, transforming it from snapshots into art.   As we browse Vogue and Cosmo, we shouldn’t forget who’s on the other side of the camera, making the magic come to life: the fashion photographer.   The fashion photographer offers us a window into another world – the world of fashion (whether ready-to-wear or couture) – with all of its passion, elegance and vulnerability.

One of our favorite fashion photographers is Richard Avedon.  After Avedon’s death in 2004, his New York Times obituary said that “his fashion and portrait photographs helped define America’s image of style, beauty and culture for the last half-century.”  In a career that spanned 60 years, Avedon is responsible for some of the most famous fashion advertising photos, including Brooke Shields’ first Calvin Klein campaign:

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Avedon was more than just a commercial photographer – he was also one of the most prolific Vogue photographers of all time.  In total, he shot 148 Vogue covers, including this one of Twiggy from 1967:

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Avedon also produced images that were considered high art, including this 1955 photo of Dovima wearing a Dior evening dress, with elephants from the Cirque D’Hiver in Paris.  In 2010, this photo sold for over $1.1 million at Christie’s:

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The fashion photographer is our tour guide into a world that many of us can only observe.  That is the beauty of photography: it takes us places and communicates immediately what can’t be described any other way.  In literally an instant, the photographer creates an impression worth well over a thousand words (or in this case, well over a million dollars).

Real people move, they bear with them the element of time. It is this fourth dimension of people that I try to capture in a photograph.  –  Richard Avedon

One of our favorite characteristics of many Avedon photographs is their sense of motion.   When looking at Avedon’s work, we can imagine the woman he’s representing.   We can almost feel her style.   Avedon’s work captures the element of time and yet is timeless:

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And while he was brilliant at capturing motion, Avedon was also a master of the still portrait:

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I have a white background. I have the person I’m interested in and the thing that happens between us. – Richard Avedon

Fashion is an inherently visual endeavor – the fashion photographer is in many ways a medium of sorts, coaxing out both an aesthetic and a mood from one single moment in time.  Brilliant fashion photography transports us, it sparks our imagination and allows us to take part in a kind of fantasy; it creates a world of presumed perfection.  But as we can see from Avedon’s photographs, the fashion portrait is in many ways also incredibly fragile – the image was there for a moment and now it’s gone, the hair that was then perfect is likely now out of place, the smoldering look is now a blank stare.   It gives us a taste and then leaves us wanting more.

Part of what draws many of us to fashion is our general nature to like beautiful things (however we choose to define “beautiful”); it is through brilliant fashion photography that we can connect to beauty; it is ultimately “the thing that happens between us.”

Interested in learning more about Richard Avedon?  Check out the Richard Avedon Foundation and check out this clip from the Avedon documentary, “Darkness and Light.”

 

 

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